Barack Obama, as a presidential candidate, pledged that his administration would "put government data online in universally accessible formats". I learned about this campaign promise from the post techPresident – Sell Obama stimulus and create new transparency era by democratizing data by W. David Stephenson, who is the co-author of an upcoming O'Reilly book Democratizing Data, a book about:
strategies for automated structured data feeds and their use to improve worker efficiency, transparency, and to stimulate mass collaboration. He argues that governments and corporations, by creating automated data feeds in formats such as XML and KML, can simultaneously
- for the first time give their entire workforces, not just senior management, access to the information they need to do their jobs more efficiently, but also collaborate organization-wide
- restore public confidence through transparent operations that watchdog groups, the media, regulators, and the public can monitor on a real-time basis
- find creative new solutions to problems and add profitable new services through mass collaboration leveraging their organizational data.
Stephenson refers to a YouTube video of a talk Obama gave at Google as a specific instance of Obama's mention of "universally accessible formats". I was curious to nail down what Obama said exactly. If you jump to 9:11 into the talk, you will hear Obama say the following:
To seize this moment, we have to use technology to open up our democracy. It's no coincidence that one of the most secretive administrations in our history has favored special interests and pursued policies that could not stand up to the sunlight. As president, I'm going to change that. We will put government data online in universally acccessible formats. [cheer from the Google crowd] I'll let citizens track federal grants, contracts, earmarks, and lobbying contracts. I'll let you participate in government forums,. ask questions, in real time offer suggestions that will be reviewed before decisions are made, and let you comment on legislation before it is signed. And to ensure that every government agency is meeting 21st century standards, I will appoint the nation's first chief technology officer to coordinate and make certain that we are always at the forefront of technology and that we are incorporating it into every decision that we make.
I was gratified to see that on the very first full day of work in Obama's administration, Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government (pdf), which states:
- "Executive departments and agencies should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public."
- "Executive departments and agencies should offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and to provide their Government with the benefits of their collective expertise and information. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public input on how we can increase and improve opportunities for public participation in Government."
- "Executive departments and agencies should solicit public feedback to assess and improve their level of collaboration and to identify new opportunities for cooperation."
- "[Obama] direct[s] the Chief Technology Officer, in coordination with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Administrator of General Services, to coordinate the development by appropriate executive departments and agencies, within 120 days, of recommendations for an Open Government Directive, to be issued by the Director of OMB, that instructs executive departments and agencies to take specific actions implementing the principles set forth in this memorandum. The independent agencies should comply with the Open Government Directive."
You might be interested in hearing Obama explain the concept of transparent government to the White House staff:
- C-SPAN Video Player – President Obama Address to White House Staff
- TPM TV | Talking Points Memo | Obama: Transparency Will Be Touchstone provides a good excerpt
A geek note: In providing a reference to the YouTube video, I was able to provide a URL that loaded the YouTube video and fast forwarded to the moment of interest using the experimental service VTagIt! (by Rick Jaffe). VTagIt is a great proof-of-concept for services that will be increasingly useful as time goes by. It's so much more useful to be able to point someone to a specific point in a video instead of saying "go to the video and fast-forward to point X".